Chucho Valdés & Paquito D’Rivera Reunion Sextet: I Missed You Too!

The longevity and the durability of the musical relationship between Paquito D’Rivera and Chucho Valdés give a freedom and flexibility to these performances on I Missed You Too! that defies all logic; they certainly go way beyond the kind of politely mannered performances that might ensue when musical friends get together after what seems like an age. In the case of Mr Valdés and Mr D’Rivera it is a relationship that began when the latter was introduced to the former by a revered friend – Samuel Téllez. Mr D’Rivera’s notes – written with customary wit and warmth – suggest that the musical paths have crossed frequently [in the years following their introduction, which was in 1962] and they spent much time honing their skills with some of the most iconic Cuban ensembles. [How about Irakere!?]

Chucho Valdés & Paquito D'Rivera Reunion Sextet - I Missed You Too!
Chucho Valdés & Paquito D’Rivera Reunion Sextet – I Missed You Too!

This performance probably has been a long time coming, what with their busy schedules zig-zagging across the globe. But from the first moments of their infectious, quick-witted interaction on this disc they parley like old friends, in a noble performance that is absolutely a revelation. The repertoire is just plain beautiful and played so. Chucho Valdés captures the eloquent emotional tension in the lofty curve of this music. The best example of this partnership by far comes right at the end of the performance; a duet “El día que me quieras” [literally “The day you loved me”] by one of the greatest of boleros written by the legendary Carlos Gardel, where both Paquito D’Rivera and Chucho Valdés shape its tessitura to reflect the impending drama of the piece.

But the magical musical partnership is jump-started right out of the gate with Mr Valdés’ iconic composition “Mambo Influenciado”, a piece that has been played so many times over the years [and by so many musicians]. And yet the music sounds here, as if it were just written and improvised on the fly. Mr D’Rivera’s alto saxophone is particularly incisive on this chart. It was just as much a stroke of genius [hardly surprising] for Mr D’Rivera to play “Mozart a la Cubana” using his magical and burnished Louis Rossi clarinet – the first clarinet to be made in Santiago de Chile [according to Mr D’Rivera himself] from a remarkable piece of wood brought to the instrument maker by an old friend of the clarinetist – no less.

At any rate the tonal range of the instrument is exploited with such unbridled mastery by Mr D’Rivera that it encompasses dynamic mutations of colour, from broadly sonorous to gently ethereal. Thus the clarinetist is able to match the great pianist Mr Valdés – phrase for phrase, when the emotion demands it – in soto voce and extreme pianissimo with a kind of ‘ductile’ give and take to each other’s phrasing. Together the partnership offers a free-flowing, flexible approach [to this repertoire] of vibrant impulsiveness and expressive fervour.

This is equally true of music such as the maddeningly brilliant and quixotic “Mozart a la Cubana” composed specially for Mr D’Rivera by Mr Valdés. [The alto saxophonist and clarinetist returns the favour on a breathtakingly tender, yet racy, “I Missed You Too!”] Exquisitely tenderness is maintained as well on the ballad “Claudia”. Meanwhile the musical character sketch of Mr D’Rivera, “Pac-Man” [written by a friend of both musicians by the Hilario Durán] is played with wit and almost insolent virtuosity. This partnership offers an uncompromising  structural wholeness to this music. Their grip on rhythm and pulse is unequivocal, artistic rapport extraordinarily close.

Of course the music is raised to quite another level by the sublime musicians who complete the sextet as they keep both Mr D’Rivera and Mr Valdés on their proverbial toes as well. The great trumpeter and valve trombonist Diego Urcola provides unique décor to parts that require the resonant or muted tone of the trumpet. And when the gurgling human voice-like annunciations of his valve trombone are called for then he plays the instrument with brooding lyricism. A majestic and towering wall of rhythm is created by the outstanding drummer Dafnis Prieto, and the rest of the considerable percussion colours are painted by Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. Bassist José Armando Gola brings his uncompromising and unique rumbling gravitas to this rhythmic edifice. No wonder the music of this memorable recording is raised to a rarefied realm…

Tracks – 1: Mambo Influenciado; 2: Mozart a la Cubana; 3: I Missed You Too! 4: Pac-Man; 5: Claudia; 6: El Majá de Vento; 7: El día que me quieras

Musicians – Chucho Valdés: piano; Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone [1, 4, 6, 7] and clarinet [2, 3, 5]; Diego Urcola: trumpet [2, 3, 5, 6] and valve trombone 1, 4]; Dafnis Prieto: drums [1 – 6]; José A Gola: contrabass [1 – 5] and electric bass 6]; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: percussion [1 – 6]

Released – 2022
Label – Sunnyside Records [SSC 4562]
Runtime – 49:21

Raul Da Gama
Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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